Two metro-east teachers nominated for Illinois Teacher of the Year

News-DemocratSeptember 10, 2013 

Two metro-east educators are among 11 teachers in the state selected as finalists for the Illinois Teacher of the Year award.

The local teachers in the running for Illinois Teacher of the Year include Donna Whitaker, who teaches science to seventh-graders at West Junior High School in Belleville District 118, and Sina Rowe, a kindergarten to third-grade special education teacher at Goshen Elementary School in Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7.

The winner will be announced during a banquet in October.

Both Whitaker and Rowe were selected as finalists in the Illinois State Board of Education's annual "Those Who Excel," educator recognition program. Teachers earning an Award of Excellence are finalists for Illinois Teacher of the Year.

Whitaker was surprised to learn of her nomination. "I'm still trying to understand how and why I'm different from anyone else," she said.

Whitaker's teaching philosophy is "see it, hear it and do it." She does a lot of hands-on activities with her students. "I'm just doing what I feel I need to do for the kids," Whitaker said.

Rowe said she is proud but humbled by the recognition. She considers her greatest accomplishment as being chosen as the lead teacher in Edwardsville's new in-district program for students with autism, bringing students who were placed out of the district back into District 7 schools.

Rowe works with children that have a wide range of disabilities, including autism, Down Syndrome, emotional disabilities, traumatic brain injury and others.

"Throughout all of these different labels, Rowe sees one constant truth: all children can learn," said Edwardsville Superintendent Ed Hightower. "She shares this belief with her colleagues and brings that spirit to every educational conversation she has. She sees the power of positivity in her students' progress and recognizes that different students have different needs."

A selection committee comprised of administrators, teachers and representatives from educational service personnel, student support personnel and past Illinois Teacher of the Year winners reviewed approximately 200 nominations this year.

The 2013-14 Illinois Teacher of the Year will be announced during the Those Who Excel banquet Oct. 19 in Normal. The Teacher of the Year will represent Illinois at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., and in the Council of Chief State School Officers' National Teacher of the Year Program.


Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7 is organizing a fund-raising event for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Columbus Elementary School teacher and Illinois Army National Guard Officer Candidate Matt Maddox will work with all elementary schools, Liberty and Lincoln Middle School's FIT and GO organizations, and Edwardsville High School's Student Council, National Honor Society and class officers to raise money for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Association.

Maddox created this district-wide fundraiser to support the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan; it will begin on Wednesday at all schools and continue through the remainder of that week at the middle and high schools.

Superintendent Ed Hightower said the district's goal is to raise $10,000 as a means of saying thank you to the veterans.

Anyone wishing to support the effort should make checks payable to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Association and send the check to 708 St. Louis St., Edwardsville, IL 62025. For more information, visit


Harmony-Emge School District 175 school board unanimously approved a new two-year teachers contract during a special meeting last week.

Superintendent Pam Leonard said teachers have a salary freeze the first year of the contract but can earn a step increase if they acquire advanced degrees. During the second year, teachers will receive a 1 and a half percent pay increase, according to Leonard.

The new contract impacts 42 teachers.


Belleville East High School is hosting a marching band contest at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the school, 2555 West Blvd., Belleville. The ninth annual contest will feature the Belleville East Marching Lancers and eight other area high school marching bands. Awards will be presented at approximately 3:30 p.m.

Belleville East Band Director Mark Tessereau said each band will perform an individualized show. The Marching Lancers will perform a show called "Transformations."

"We do single pieces of different music that's arranged as one piece," Tessereau explained.

Admission to the contest is $6 for adults and $4 for students. Children 7 years old and younger are free.

O'Fallon Township High School will also host a band competition Saturday called the Metro East Marching Band Classic, which is set to begin around 4 p.m. The band classic will feature 20 bands from throughout the bi-state region. Awards will be presented at 10 p.m.


Taylor Koonce from Dupo has received the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can receive.

Taylor completed her Girl Scout Gold Award project during her senior year at Dupo High School in 2013. For her project, Taylor educated people living in her community about environment issues and ways to be eco-friendly. In addition, with the help of her Air Force Junior ROTC unit, she repaired an outdoor classroom that community members use.

Taylor has been a Girl Scout for 13 years and received the Girl Scout Trifecta Award for earning her Girl Scout Bronze Award, Girl Scout Silver Award and Girl Scout Gold Award. She plans to attend Michigan State University where she will major in biosystems engineering. Taylor is the daughter Kendra and Michael Koonce.


Home Energy Auditor Training sessions are set to begin in September in East St. Louis. The class prepares participants for the Building Performance Institute certification exam. Successful completion of the course and passage of the certification exam prepare you for work as a building analyst.

Upcoming Home Energy Auditor Training classes are provided free of charge to selected applicants. To qualify, you must have a high school diploma or general educational diploma; be a resident of St. Clair or Madison counties; be unemployed or underemployed; and test drug free.

A September night class will be held at the East St. Louis Community College Center, 601 James R. Thompson Blvd., from Tuesday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 20. Sessions meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

An October day class will be offered at the SWIC Belleville Campus, 2500 Carlyle Ave., from Monday, Sept. 17 through Wednesday, Oct. 30. Sessions meet Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information or to register, call 618-874-6528.

Do you have an item for Education Matters or an education-related story tip? We want to know about it. Send your ideas to Jamie Forsythe at or call 618-239-2562. Follow her on Twitter at

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or

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